Normalizing sin. This is the #1 problem in our church/culture today, if you want to boil it down to a simple answer.
We have normalized sin. We have made it okay. We had looked at the evil, the ugliness, the nastiness, the separation from God, and said, “Sure. I’m good with that.”
I believe one of the primary drives behind this is our entertainment choices. I studied entertainment for a long time; I majored in technical theatre in both undergrad and graduate school. Radio, television, communication, and history of media classes were the bulk of my studies. If I hadn’t dropped out of my MFA degree to (eventually) attend seminary, my goal was to work for George Lucas at Industrial Light & Magic, making Star Wars movies.
Even through seminary, I focused my studies on how art, and thus, entertainment, had been shaped by the church throughout history. But these days the church no longer shapes entertainment – the culture is shaping our churches, and the result is the normalization of things God has called evil.
“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” – Isaiah 5:20
Television and Movies
Television and movies are one of Satan’s best methods in doing this, wouldn’t you agree? What happens to your brain when you sit down in front of the screen to be entertained? You come home from work, from running errands, or you are “done” dealing with your kids all day, and you switch off your brain, in direct contrast to God’s commands.
“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” – II Corinthians 10:5
God commands us to never shut off our brains, but to be discerning in everything we allow to enter into our hearts and minds. We sit down and think, “This is just an innocent evening of entertainment,” but in reality Satan is whispering, “Look at what is really okay: extramarital sex, wives disrespecting their husbands, children disobeying their parents, people stealing and killing for fun or revenge, criminals as the ‘good’ guys, and the Lord’s name taken in vain.”
After time our minds are worn down, and we no longer view as sin the things that God does. The things that we claim we want to break our hearts no longer do; we’ve become used to them, and immune to both their inherent evil and their consequences.
Books are another way Satan slides into our lives and makes us resistant to calling out sin. When I was growing up, we lived with my grandparents and my unmarried aunt. My aunt loved her Harlequin romance novels. She must have had hundreds of them, and during breaks from high school, I could easily read two or three of them a day. Talk about setting up my future marriage for failure!
Providentially, by the time I got married at age 27, I had put aside the trashy romance novels. Otherwise, my mind would’ve still been full of ridiculous expectations of being swept away by a smooth-talking cowboy who would take me dancing before feeding me breakfast on his deck overlooking a mountain range. Sleeping together before marriage is expected in those books, not something that is optional, and certainly nothing sinful or shameful.
But it isn’t just romance novels that set us up to swallow sin. I am an avid reader, and when I taught middle school I tried to read whatever my students were reading: Harry Potter, the multiple vampire series that were released, the Hunger Games, the Pretty/Ugly/Ordinary series. All of these books introduce some sort of occult, magic, or darkness as normal, fine, and okay. Impressionable young minds begin to think things that God outlawed for good reason aren’t a big deal.
Music is the third way our resistance is worn down. If I had a dollar for every time I have heard, “I don’t listen to the lyrics, I just like the music (or the beat),” I could probably retire to the beach.
You do hear the lyrics, though, and they seep into your thoughts and help direct your behavior. When life stresses you and squeezes you, what comes out of your lips? Praise and worship, lyrics to rock and roll, or the latest “name it and claim it” songs from the radio?
In country music, women are known for taking off with the men’s trucks, dogs, and belongings. Is that an appropriate response to relationship troubles? And that’s just one example.
I am not going to claim I have perfected a solution to this. I am a sinner, and most days I am the chief sinner in my household. But my husband and I have taken steps to help us continue to live by biblical principles and recognize sin as it should be recognized.
- Know Your Scriptures. The first thing you need to do is read your Bible. Not knowing something is a sin is not an excuse. Not knowing won’t hold water when you stand before God on judgment day. You have a Bible and/or a Bible app on a mobile device. Read it, memorize it, spend time in the Word.
- Turn off the Television. This was hard for us, and this is an area in which we still struggle. But we cut off cable and satellite over five years ago. We have Netflix and Amazon, so it’s not like we are living an Amish lifestyle. However, we no longer just “zone out” in front of the television and let it mindlessly entertain us. The two major consequences of that are A) we are clueless about pop culture & modern references (so, for example, I haven’t seen any recent television shows); and B) we are super sensitive to sin on screen.
- Ask for Accountability. This is also hard to do. Confess to a trusted friend that you struggle with this, and then ask her to regularly check in with you on how you’re doing. How much media are you consuming? Are you comparing your husband to fictional characters? Are you spending time in the Word?
- Filter Your Media. There are incredible resources these days for filtering your media. My favorite is Common Sense Media. You can plug in any television show, movie, video game, app, or book, and this website/app will rate it for you in a number of categories (sexual situations, violence, drug use, and profanity, for example). It will contain spoilers (so if you get really upset knowing who dies in a movie, you won’t like this), but I use it before I show any movie to our son, because I want to know in advance what will happen. Although, typically, after I read their review, I choose not to show the movie to our kid. Which brings me to point #5.
- Set Your Limits Beforehand. Our son will be seven in less than month. He is not allowed to watch things with profanity, nudity, violence, blatant sinful situations, parental death, or themes we think will cause emotional distress. Do we get weird judgment from our family and friends? Yes. Do we control what happens at his grandparents’ house? Unfortunately, no. Have we let him watch things we regret? Yes, but we were with him. Does that mean he’s the only six year old in America who hasn’t seen all the Star Wars and Disney movies? Probably. But we would much rather loosen up as he gets older than try to lock the barn after the horse has already escaped.
In closing, here is what I want to tell you, dear sisters. I *love* movies and television, books and music. I grew up going to the movies almost every weekend with my mom (it was air conditioned and cheap back then), but my mom frequently saw the movies first, so she could tell us when to close our eyes. Realizing how comfortable I had gotten with the way sin was portrayed by the media was a process; I didn’t just wake up one morning and decide to shut it off.
Pray. Read your Bible. But don’t be comfortable with sin. It’s a snare, and a trap, and it’s deadly to you and your children and your grandchildren.
It is possible to change, to be sanctified, to become more holy and more Christlike. Then, instead of normalizing sin in your life, you will be well on your way to eradicating it.
“For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin – because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.” – Romans 6:6-7
“You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” – Romans 6:18